What if my child experiments with alcohol or drugs?

Parents want to believe that their kids won’t try drugs or alcohol. After all, preteens have been constantly exposed to anti-drug messages in school, at home, and in the media. They hear about celebrities’ drug addictions and overdoses, about drunk-driving fatalities, alcoholism, and drug- and alcohol-related violence. Parents hope all this information, plus the values stressed at home, will keep their child from trouble.

However, kids are curious, and drugs and alcohol are easily available. The same media that broadcast the “bad news” about drugs also glamorize drug and alcohol use. Many teen heroes are drug users, and many rock songs, videos, movies, and TV shows make drugs and alcohol seem acceptable and even desirable.

Seventh- and eighth-graders usually can point out the “drug group” at school. One thirteen-year-old frequently tells his parents about kids who buy drugs at his suburban school: “They stand at their lockers and pass little bags to each other.” Children are fascinated by the subject of drug use. They want to know who does it, why, and how it feels.

The most vulnerable kids are those who are left unsupervised, who feel consistently left out socially, who have too much stress in their lives, or whose parents’ abuse alcohol or drugs. If such children don’t experiment at these ages, they are likely to in high school, where exposure, access, and peer pressure are greater.

Peer pressure plays a big part in early drug use. Children are easily influenced by their friends and fear rejection for not “going along.” A child needs a strong counter influence at home, giving him the reasons and the inner resources to resist. Otherwise, as he goes through adolescence, he may create a negative identity for himself as a drinker or drug user.

The best way to keep your child away from these temptations is to let him know that drug use and underage alcohol use is absolutely wrong. Give a clear, strong message that will become part of his conscience. He’ll need to remember your words and values when friends urge him to experiment, especially as he hits the mid- and late-adolescent years. Then, he’ll see many more of his peers becoming involved, and not understanding the bigger picture, he may rationalize, “Everyone does it and nothing bad happens.” Don’t waffle now, even if you think (in the abstract) that a little drink or occasional marijuana is not so bad. What starts out as fun can easily lead to a pattern of abuse and permanent damage.

If you suspect that your child is already experimenting, act quickly. Question him about drug use, keep a close eye on his behavior, friends, and activities, and search his room and belongings. If he’s drinking or using drugs, don’t try to deal with the problem entirely on your own. Get advice right away from books or a counselor experienced in treating adolescent drug use.

While you’re getting help, try to learn why your child turned to drugs. Is he escaping from his problems? Who are his friends? How does he spend his free time? Are you home enough? Is school too stressful? What family values do you stress? Are you dealing with substance abuse by adult family members?

Stopping drug use early is essential, but it takes strength and perseverance. You’ll not only have to work on the immediate problem, but establish an involved and positive relationship with your child so he can move more safely through adolescence, with its increased temptations, peer pressure, and opportunities.

Picture Credit : Google